Three months after the mysterious disappearance of 21 people from north Kerala, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Sunday apprehended five people from Kannur for their alleged link with the extremist outfit Islamic State.
The tip-off came after questioning suspected IS recruits arrested from Hyderabad a couple of months ago, intelligence sources said.
Following this, at least eight people were under the scanner of the NIA, which tracked them for almost two months. The team raided their hideout near Panur with the help of Kerala police on Sunday. Three people slipped out of the dragnet and efforts are on to locate them, sources said.
It is not yet clear if the arrested people have links with the 21 suspected to have joined the Islamic State. Sources said the suspects were planning to activate some of the sleeper cells of the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) and plotting a conspiracy to target some well-known personalities of south India.
Two of the arrested are from Tamil Nadu. The police had tightened security of four RSS leaders recently following tip-off from central agencies.
In July, Hyderabad police arrested two key IS suspects — Yasir Niamatullah and Athahulla Rehman. The latter was reported to be the main fundraiser of an IS module in south India. After questioning them, police busted a gang of five who were preparing improvised explosive devices to carry out blasts in different parts of the country.
Three months ago, 21 people, including six women and two children, had gone missing from the state, sending shockwaves across the country. Most of the missing are well-educated and hail from respectable upper-middle class families. Two men and three women had converted to Islam. Intelligences agencies had traced some calls made by them to Afghanistan.
The Kerala police had arrested two people from Mumbai in connection with the missing people. Arshid Qureshi and Rizwan Khan had allegedly played a key role in recruiting for the IS and dispatching them abroad.
Qureshi, an associate of controversial preacher Zakir Naik, was held in connection with the disappearance of Merin alias Mariyam, a resident of Kochi. Merin’s brother had filed a police complaint that Qureshi had also tried to convert him during a meeting in Mumbai last year. Now the NIA is investigating the case and most families have disowned them.